Voyages of discovery into the Hikurangi subduction zone

JASE THE ACE: Remotely operated underwater vehicle Jason is lowered into the ocean. Jason will be a key piece of equipment during United States research ship RV Roger Revelle’s series of voyages to study the Hikurangi subduction zone off the East Coast. Picture supplied

A United States research ship will be off the coast of Gisborne over the next few weeks to further investigate the Hikurangi subduction zone.

RV Roger Revelle leaves Wellington port tomorrow for the first of three scientific voyages from December to February to study the zone.

Scientists hope to uncover valuable insights into the physical conditions of New Zealand’s largest fault, which extends along the length of the east coast of the North Island.

Subduction zones develop a type of fault that are responsible for large earthquakes and tsunamis such as Sumatra 2004, Chile 2010 and Japan 2011.

The region has attracted international interest and funding for scientific projects to better understand subduction zones and the earthquake and tsunami risk they pose to coastal communities.

Two of the voyages will involve deploying and later retrieving 42 sea floor instruments at 168 sites along the zone.

The instruments will sit on the sea floor and record electromagnetic waves transmitted by an instrument that will travel along the sea floor controlled by scientists on board the research vessel.

Columbia University’s Dr Samer Naif, who will lead two of the voyages, says they are interested in learning what fluid conditions generate earthquakes at the subduction zone. Fluid conditions affect the likelihood and type of earthquakes that occur at faults.

Scientists will use information they collect to construct an image, like a medical MRI, of fluid conditions below the sea floor.

The other voyage, led by University of Washington’s Dr Evan Solomon, will use a remotely operated underwater vehicle (ROV) to visually inspect the seafloor, deploy instruments capable of continuously monitoring the fluid conditions along the Hikurangi subduction zone, collect samples of sediment to depths of up to 10 metres, and make temperature measurements along the seafloor to better understand the role of fluids.

“Results from these three voyages will fill in some of the missing pieces of the Hikurangi puzzle and also contribute to our global understanding of how subduction zones behave,” says Dr Solomon.

A United States research ship will be off the coast of Gisborne over the next few weeks to further investigate the Hikurangi subduction zone.

RV Roger Revelle leaves Wellington port tomorrow for the first of three scientific voyages from December to February to study the zone.

Scientists hope to uncover valuable insights into the physical conditions of New Zealand’s largest fault, which extends along the length of the east coast of the North Island.

Subduction zones develop a type of fault that are responsible for large earthquakes and tsunamis such as Sumatra 2004, Chile 2010 and Japan 2011.

The region has attracted international interest and funding for scientific projects to better understand subduction zones and the earthquake and tsunami risk they pose to coastal communities.

Two of the voyages will involve deploying and later retrieving 42 sea floor instruments at 168 sites along the zone.

The instruments will sit on the sea floor and record electromagnetic waves transmitted by an instrument that will travel along the sea floor controlled by scientists on board the research vessel.

Columbia University’s Dr Samer Naif, who will lead two of the voyages, says they are interested in learning what fluid conditions generate earthquakes at the subduction zone. Fluid conditions affect the likelihood and type of earthquakes that occur at faults.

Scientists will use information they collect to construct an image, like a medical MRI, of fluid conditions below the sea floor.

The other voyage, led by University of Washington’s Dr Evan Solomon, will use a remotely operated underwater vehicle (ROV) to visually inspect the seafloor, deploy instruments capable of continuously monitoring the fluid conditions along the Hikurangi subduction zone, collect samples of sediment to depths of up to 10 metres, and make temperature measurements along the seafloor to better understand the role of fluids.

“Results from these three voyages will fill in some of the missing pieces of the Hikurangi puzzle and also contribute to our global understanding of how subduction zones behave,” says Dr Solomon.

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